Presidential politics: It’s about the money


The third quarter presidential financial reports are in and this is a good time to string together some thoughts about the candidates.

“Money is the mother’s milk of politics,” said former California Assembly Speaker Jesse Unruh.

Money is what it is all about in campaigns, especially presidential politics, as they have evolved into hundreds-of-million dollar businesses, replete with fundraisers, media consultants, travel consultants, pollsters, and a host of other specialists. The days of candidate door-knocking and Lincoln-Douglas debates are part of a quaint Norman Rockwell past. Modern presidential campaigns are won or lost with money.

Third quarter reports are in and we can learn a lot about candidate prospects by examining their fund-raising balance sheets. Of most interest, Michelle Bachmann’s along with those of Obama, Romney, and Cain.


Bachmann is dead financially and it confirms her descent in the polls. In the second quarter she raised $4.2 million, suggesting that her congressional money machine was not equipped to make the presidential leap. Yet her third quarter produced barely $4 million, and she spent nearly $6 M, leaving her, after all other income and expenses are totaled, $500,000 in the hole. This is embarrassing and bad news for her.

Embarrassing–She rails against government deficits and need to live within our means yet she cannot do that with her own campaign. She has proved to be a bad steward of her own money–how can we trust her with the public treasury? Her credibility on the budget is gone.

Bad News–Bachmann’s financial woes confirm her poll problems and fall from grace. Think about it–the 3Q should have been a slot machine for her. In August she was at the top of the polls and had won the Iowa straw poll. She had a massive donor list and money should have poured in. Yet it did not. Perry clearly hurt her as did her bad debate performances and gaffes. She failed to capitalize on her opportunities.

But that is not the end of it. Bachmann has not been to New Hampshire since June. She has little or no organization outside of Iowa where she continues to camp out. Her poll numbers are bad and hurt fund-raising, and now this news about the 3Q only makes it harder to generate cash.

Even if Bachmann wins Iowa in January it will not be enough to save her. Everyone expects her to do well there so she will not get much of a bounce even my winning. But assume she wins, what then? With no organization in other states she will not be able to capitalize on the win there to help her move forward. Her financial number reveal a candidate who will meet her Waterloo one way or the other in Iowa. She lacks an infrastructure in other battle ground states and thus she may be a one-state candidate.

How long will Bachmann last? I think she makes it through Iowa at most. At the least she stays in the campaign through December because she has a book coming out then. Is she counting on the book bolstering her campaign? No–Bachmann is now in it for herself. She is using her presidential campaign and her supporters for the personal benefit if herself. An active campaign makes for books sales and for money in her own pocket.

Call me cynical but it is now clear Bachmann does not care about the presidency or her supporters. She is in it for the money. Watch her make a few million on her book, leave her creditors on the hook, and she walks away from politics rich and her supporters used.

Obama and Romney

Obama raised a ton of 3Q money, dwarfing all of the GOP. Good for him–he will need it if he wants to win reelection. Money, the power of incumbency, an unpopular Congress, and the penchant of the Republicans to want to nominate a candidate so conservative that no swing voter will support them (Think Goldwater and 1964) may overshadow the 9% unemployment rate. Obama still lacks a narrative for reelection and GOP will run on the mantra of “change” against him.

Romney hangs tough with $14 million, but GOP polls continue to place him at about 25%–a spot that has not changed for months. He seems stuck, unable to gain more support as the different flavors of the month–Trump, Bachmann, Perry, and now Cain–seem to come and go. Romney may have the best shot of all to beat Obama but he generates little excitement. His problem is that he is like the guy who reminds a woman of her first husband. He has the same problem with the Republicans. He generates little excitement and affection. His boringness is why other candidates look good to the Republicans–they are searching for something more exciting and for someone who will fulfill their fantasies. Romney is out of place with the current version of the Republican Party. If he does get the nomination he will generate little excitement among the Tea Party folks. Remember, Rod Stewart is right–it is about passion–especially in politics–and Romney lacks it.

Wall Street, Obama, and Romney

If you want loyalty and a friend, get a dog. This is what Obama must be thinking about Wall Street. They were his friends in 08 when they needed him and they gave to his campaign. Now Romney is out-pacing him when it comes to Wall Street money. Why?

Wall street got what it wanted from Obama–the bailouts–and they do not need him anymore. Obama was played like a violin–he bailed them out before getting anything from them and now that they are fat with cash again they cast him aside for someone else. No surprise.

Cain and Final Thoughts

Cain might be the flavor of the month but it is good to be the flavor when it is close to the real start of the primary season, which is just a few weeks from now. His poll numbers are great but his fund-raising is lackluster at less than $3 million (which includes a ton of his own money). In the last few days the media has poured scrutiny on him–look to see more of that in the coming weeks.

His 9-9-9 will come under huge analysis. Cain admits that 9-9-9 was conceived of as a bold idea. Bold it is, smart it is not. It is not based on any real economics but instead it captures the attention of those who want quick simple solutions.

Wait to people begin to think about the 9% federal sales tax. I am sure consumers and businesses will love it. Plus 9-9-9 will force massive budget cuts and fail to generate the revenue needed to address the debt. Look to see 9-9-9 lampooned soon.